Athlone nationally recognised for its cleanliness standards as sad news of former colleagues emanates

We are truly fully back when the old problems continue to assert themselves. Brexit has assumed a central role again on the political stage, with the usual chaos and parliamentary pantomime evident at Westminster. And yet no one has come up with an alternative to Theresa May’s Brexit plan. There will be a vote next week in the UK parliament, and as the Prime Minister herself has said, who knows what will happen next? It’s really unsettling all round and very difficult for government departments, agencies and so on to make any plans as they are facing into the unknown.

Christmas and the New Year always seems to bring some very sad and often high profile deaths. Over the Christmas/New Year we had the sad death of Mark Killilea from Tuam and Peter Kelly from Longford. I had never worked in Dáil Éireann with Mark, but I knew him very well from his European days when he took over Ray MacSharry’s seat in ’87 (Ray MacSharry had been called back by Charlie Haughey to take on the role of Minister for Finance in the 1987 Fianna Fáil government ). I always liked Mark and met him often as they took a house regularly in Ballyconneely in Connemara, where years ago we all went on holidays as well.

Mark was a fine public servant and I was glad to be able to see him laid out in his home in Belclare in Tuam in County Galway, and to sympathise with his dear wife and family, all of whom were so extremely proud of Mark and the role he played in Irish politics. Albert Reynolds and himself revolutionised telephones in the early 1980s when it was impossible to get one, and the two of them working together tried to ensure that as many households as possible got landline phones during that period. They shook up the then telephone monopoly. Obviously there were no mobile phones then but to even get a landline was considered a great feat of ingenuity. Between them Albert and Mark travelled the countryside eliminating bureaucracy, changing the way forms were filled, and in general ensuring as far as they could a workman-like approach to the provision of telephones.

Then last weekend we had the sad death of Peter Kelly in Longford, who had been my constituency colleague in Longford-Westmeath for over a decade. I went to see him laid out and to meet with Maura Kelly and her fine family as we talked about Peter and the fine service he gave the Longford community, urban and rural. He had a terrific sense of humour, and I remember many nights in Dáil Éireann, perhaps waiting for a vote, when a few of us would get together and we always found Peter to be the life and soul of any gathering, small or large. He served Longford with great attention and devotion, and I was very glad to pay tribute to him.

The last death was that of John Walsh here in Athlone. John was a Mayo man married to a Mayo woman, and he came to Athlone to take up the position of Town Clerk in 1983 and served in that position until 2012 – almost 30 years. John was an example of a public servant of the highest quality, absolutely committed to his job, to the town of Athlone, to giving a decent service to the citizens of the town, and particularly committed to the elected members of the then Athlone Town Council, later to be the Municipal Authority. He will be truly and sadly missed, of course by his devoted family but also by all who knew him. When I went to pay my respects he looked as he always did, with his shirt and tie, his glasses and the wise expression on his face.

I would like to give my true and deepest sympathy to the families of all these fine people who will be sadly missed in Irish public life.

Quite aside from the sad death of John Walsh, there was great news for Athlone this week in the IBAL (Irish Businesses Against Litter ) results. Athlone was rated second in the whole of Ireland next to Fermoy and followed by Killarney in third place. It was a terrific acknowledgment of the town of Athlone and the great work which the various clean-ups have done, as well as the hard work of the Athlone Tidy Towns committee over so many years. Well done to Athlone, and keep up the good work.

Before I start to talk about rugby, I want to mention with great delight Westmeath’s victory over Kildare in Round 3 of the O’Byrne Cup. The final scoreline read Westmeath 1-13, Kildare 1-7. Yes I know that Kildare ended up with only 14 players, but even allowing for that Westmeath had a surprise and very welcome victory. We face Longford next weekend in the same O’Byrne Cup and I hope victory will follow them in that outing as well.

We had wonderful rugby games, all chronicled on TG4 which made for terrific viewing. Connacht put up a great fight against Munster, and even though Munster were the victors Connacht played such a fine game. There is no doubt that Connacht as a team are playing a blinder right throughout this autumn and winter. It is hoped that Robbie Henshaw will be back to full performance this coming weekend, and of course we in Athlone are so looking forward to seeing him on the pitch again. It seems that Johnny Sexton will not be fit for an outing this weekend, but hopefully he will build up and make his injury good again.

I had a wonderful day in Ennis on Nollaig na mBan, last Sunday January 6. Rita McInerney, who has been selected as a candidate for Fianna Fáil in Clare whenever the next General Election is held, had gathered over 200 women for an afternoon tea and general celebration on the day, and we all had a powerful afternoon. I was delighted to have accepted her invitation to speak and to launch her campaign, which was attended by Deputy Timmy Dooley and his lovely wife Eimear and also by my former Cabinet colleague Brendan Daly who was in fine fettle. All in all, a fitting political start to 2019.

That’s my lot for now. Hope to talk with you all next week.

In the meantime go safely.

Slán go fóill.

Mary O’Rourke

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